In the first of two Olympic send-off matches, the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) will look to continue its unbeaten streak against South Africa in an international friendly on Saturday, July 9 at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The match will be the first ever meeting of the two teams, although South Africa, currently ranked 52nd in the world, also qualified for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, their second consecutive trip to the Summer Games.
The match is meant to further the USWNT's Olympic preparations, but that aspect of the game may be overshadowed by the players' continued fight for equal payment. The New York Times reported that, in light of little progress being made in the negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for the team, the team will be wearing shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Equal Play, Equal Pay" as they make media appearances and attend press events before the Olympic send-off matches.
USWNT news: Players ramping up equal pay fight ahead of Rio, will start public campaign on issue this weekend. More at @nytsports soon.— Andrew Das (@AndrewDasNYT) July 7, 2016
Although it was previously thought that Ellis would be naming her 18-player Olympic roster before the July camp, it is now thought that she will be naming the roster in the days shortly after the South Africa match, although, once again, this is purely speculation.
"We’re looking forward to finalizing our Olympic roster. We have been evaluating players since our Victory Tour last year, so we are anticipating a great camp and finishing that process," Ellis said in a statement from U. S. Soccer. "It’s exciting to play a new opponent, and South Africa instantly has our respect for earning an Olympic berth from Africa."
To prepare for the match, head coach Jill Ellis called 24 players into camp on July 2. The majority of those players are allocated players in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), but teen phenom Mallory Pugh once again received a call up.
Pugh, 18, was first called into camp with the senior national team in January and was first capped in the January 23 match against Ireland. She now has 12 caps with the national team during which she has scored two goals and tallied a team-high six assists for 2016.
Lloyd suffered a Grade 1 MCL sprain in an April 22 match with the Houston Dash, and despite being given an estimated three-to-six-week recovery period, has yet to return to field for club or country.
However, Saturday will mark her return to the field for the USWNT as Ellis confirmed in a press conference Friday morning that Lloyd would be available for Saturday's match. While it is almost definite that Lloyd will see a several minutes against South Africa, it seems unlikely that she will play longer than a half.
Rapinoe tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in December in a non-contact injury when she fell on a training field being used by the national team. Although she has been training some with the Seattle Reign FC, she last played competitively in the USWNT’s Oct. 25 Victory Tour match against Brazil.
While Rapinoe is back in camp with the national team, it was previously reported that she would not be playing in Saturday’s friendly, but would instead be in camp to evaluate the progress she has made in her recovery. There are conflicting reports about whether she has been cleared for contact, but even if she has been, its doubtful she will see any time this weekend.
The only surprise to the camp roster was the return of Gina Lewandowski, a 31-year-old defender for Bayern Munich in Germany who was last called into USWNT camp in October 2015.
While fans are eagerly anticipating the release of the roster, which will consist of two goalkeepers and 16 field players, and the four alternates (one goalkeeper and three field players) who will travel with the team to Rio, most of the roster seems pretty much set. There seems to still only be a debate about Rapinoe’s health and which of the bubble players will make the cut.
With that in mind, Jill Ellis will likely take one of two approaches to Saturday’s match. The first is for Ellis to give the bubble players one last look, giving players like Emily Sonnett, Whitney Engen, Sam Mewis, Allie Long and Heather O’Reilly another chance to make their cases for a plane ticket to Rio. The other approach is to test out the starting XI she will likely be using in the games.
Regardless of which approach Ellis takes, it is almost certain that Hope Solo, just one match shy of reaching the historic 100 shutout mark, will be standing in goal for the U.S. When Solo reaches this milestone, she will be the first goalkeeper in world soccer history to accomplish such a feat.
The USWNT takes on South Africa at Soldier Field in Chicago on Saturday, July 9 at 1 p.m. EST. The game will be aired on Fox Sports 1 and streamed online at Fox Sports Go or on the Fox Sports Go app.
United States Women’s National Team Roster by Position
GOALKEEPERS (3): Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars), Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)
DEFENDERS (9): Whitney Engen (Boston Breakers), Jaelene Hinkle (Western New York Flash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Gina Lewandowski (FC Bayern Munich), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash), Heather O’Reilly (FC Kansas City) Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC)
FORWARDS (4): Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado)
HEAD COACH: Jill Ellis
South Africa Women’s National Team Roster by Position:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Roxanne Barker (SC Heerenveen), Andile Dlamini (Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies), Kaylin Swart (Menlo College)
DEFENDERS (8): Lebohang Ramalepe (Maindis FC), Nothando Vilakazi (Palace Super Falcons FC), Janine van Wyk (JvW FC), Noko Matlou (Maindis FC), Lerato Kgasago (Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies), Nomathemba Ntsibande (Springs Home Sweepers), Bambanani Mbane (Bloemfontein Celtic Ladies), Lebogang Mabatle (Tuks)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Mamello Makhabane (JvW FC), Amanda Dlamini (JvW FC), Silindile Ngubane (Durban Ladies FC), Refiloe Jane (Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies), Leandra Smeda (UWC Ladies), Nompumelelo Nyandeni (JvW FC), Linda Motlhalo (JvW FC), Stephanie Malherbe (Texas A&M University), Robyn Moodaly (University of Northwestern Ohio)
FORWARDS (5): Sanah Mollo (Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies), Shiwe Nogwanya (Bloemfontein Celtic Ladies), Thembi Kgatlana (UWC Ladies), Chantelle Essau (Palace Super Falcons FC), Jermaine Seoposenwe (Samford University)
HEAD COACH: Vera Pauw